Summary of Main Issues

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There are many issues involved in the cultural debate concerning science, and particularly evolution, and the Intelligent Design/creationist attempts to insert their anti-science beliefs into the state science standards. Here is a summary.

Science issues:

1. The nature of scientific knowledge: Science uses empirical methods to study the relationship among things in the physical world. The Intelligent Design/creationists want to redefine science to include supernatural causation. They claim that because science is limited to studying the physical world, it in fact teaches that the physical world is all there is; therefore there is no God, and humans have no intrinsic meaning or purpose. Millions of religious people do not accept this view of science – see Issue 8: Religious Issues below.

2. How does science work? Scientists start with empirical observations, then make and test hypotheses, and eventually form theories about some aspect of the physical world. Many theories contain inferences about things that are not directly observable. However, the Intelligent Design/creationists claim that the “historical” sciences (or “origins” science) are fundamentally less valid than the “non-historical” sciences because we can’t observe the past, and that therefore “belief” in evolution is a matter of faith.

3. “Micro vs. Macro” evolution, and common descent: A basic conclusion of evolutionary theory is that chains of biological “descent with modification” relate all living organisms with the distant past. The Intelligent Design/creationists, however, don’t accept that the “microevolutionary” processes that lead to variation within species can also create new species, and thus they doubt common descent.

4. They claim that current unsolved problems about the past (such as the origin of genetic mechanisms, biochemical pathways, and individual species) are evidence for Intelligent Design. They argue that these things could not have been caused by natural processes, and therefore must have been caused by “Intelligent Design.”

5. Theories and facts: A scientific theory is a broad explanation that integrates a wide range of observations into a meaningful and coherent whole: that is, theories explain facts. However, in popular usage, theories are speculative and facts are certain. This confusion is exploited to cast doubt on evolution. They claim evolution is “only a theory,” and therefore “other theories” such as Intelligent Design/creationism deserve equal time.

Economic issues

6. The Kansas Bioscience Authority hopes to attract $500 million in bioscience investment in the next ten years. It will be damaging to our ability to attract bioscience industry, and their employees’ families, if our state science standards contain Intelligent Design/creationist-influenced content which denies or misrepresents core aspects of biology.

Educational issues

7. The purpose of the science standards is to outline core mainstream science, accepted and used worldwide, that should be the foundation for an appropriate and quality public school science curriculum.

a. The Intelligent Design/creationist claims are not mainstream science and therefore have not earned the right to be included in the standards. By taking their claims directly to the state Board of Education, they are trying to get the equivalent of a government handout. Their ideas have not succeeded in the marketplace of scientific ideas, but they want to be included in the standards anyway.

b. Standards are not a complete curriculum, nor does the absence of a topic prohibit its being taught. However, the Intelligent Design/creationists claim that if their arguments are not included in the standards, then the state (the school system) is engaging in censorship and indoctrination in “naturalism” and atheism.

8. Critical thinking and “teaching the controversy”: The standards clearly state that students should learn to think critically about the science they learn. However, the Intelligent Design/creationists single out evolution for a different type of criticism – one which casts doubt on aspects of evolution that are widely accepted because they have been critically investigated.

The Intelligent Design/creationists incorrectly claim that there are scientific controversies where there are none, and they draw incorrect conclusions from genuine scientific controversies. The real controversies about evolution are philosophical and religious, and are largely based on misconceptions about science and the metaphysical implications of evolution.

Religious issues

9. Many Christians accept evolutionary theory, understanding the limited domain of scientific investigation. The Intelligent Design movement, however, is aimed at establishing the “scientific” reality of a particular, sectarian view of God. They denounce Christians who accept evolution, using a false dichotomy of “science implies atheism and Intelligent Design implies theism” as a wedge to make people think they have to choose between science and God.

Political issues

10. The Intelligent Design movement has a clearly documented political strategy (see The Wedge at http://www.kcfs.org/Fliers_articles/Wedge.html) and a well-organized and well-funded organization (the Discovery Institute) whose stated goals include the “overthrow of [philosophical] materialism” and the establishment of a “theistic science.” They have targeted science, evolution, and the educational system as the vehicles for achieving these goals.

Last updated February 6, 2005